Timeframe: When Dubai opened a library on a par with the world's best

The Mohammed bin Rashid Library is on the verge of its second anniversary

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library opened on June 16, 2022. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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April 23 is World Book Day. The annual initiative is organised by Unesco to encourage reading, as well as publishing and copyright.

In a local context, the grandest celebration of books comes in the form of the Mohammed bin Rashid Library. The space – named after the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – opened in June 2022. It was a pivotal moment for Dubai’s bibliophiles.

Despite the many public libraries around the city, there was nothing quite like the Mohammed bin Rashid Library. The bookstand-shaped building has since become the city’s literary calling card.

The Dh1 billion venue, which took six years to build, spans seven floors and features nine thematic libraries. It also includes an indoor theatre, outdoor amphitheatre, a literary museum, conference centre, two-storey cafe and gift shop.

However, the library’s crown jewel is its collection of books, which includes more than one million physical and digital titles spanning 30 languages.

The library and its collection is segmented into several sections. The General Library contains about 100,000 books across fiction, non-fiction, as well as history, geography, philosophy, health, cooking, sports and personal development. The section’s open reading area makes it ideal to pick a book by its spine and prop it open on the nearest desk or armchair.

The Young Adults Library, meanwhile, houses about 12,000 titles, aimed at readers between ages 12 and 17. As with the general section, titles are varied, spanning genres and subject matter. There are even comics, manga and graphic novels.

The Children’s Library is curated for those aged five to 11. It has about 17,000 books, including stories, reference books and encyclopedias. There are also books catered for children of determination including Braille and talking books, as well as sensory works.

The Maps and Atlases Library, as its name suggests, features thousands of printed maps and travel publications, and the Business Library is aimed at helping sharpen entrepreneurial spirit. Meanwhile, the Emirates Library is dedicated to exploring the history and cultural fabric of the UAE, with 35,000 titles dedicated to everything Emirati, from the country’s heritage, poetry and literature to its cuisine, handicrafts and natural landscape.

The Media and Arts Library is for works on art, architecture, design, music and performing arts. There are physical, digital and multimedia titles available to browse. The section also has collaborative areas with CR applications, a Gaming Lounge, and TV screens to browse audiovisual works.

Another section is The Periodicals Library, which has been developed with academics, researchers and students in mind. It includes magazines, journals, newspapers and newsletters alongside other print and digital periodicals.

The library’s Information Centre, on the other hand, is its underappreciated gem. The centre is located between the Children's Library, General Library and Periodicals Library and is designed to make it easy for visitors to browse through what can be an overwhelming collection. Besides its directories and databases, the section also features encyclopedias, reference sources, dictionaries and thesauri.

The Private Collections Library is spread out across two ends of the fifth floor, with books and periodicals published before the mid-20th century. The collection of antiquarian books and periodicals is steadily growing and is a treasure trove for researchers. However, those interested need to apply for access before visiting the section.

The oldest and rarest of the library’s books are located on the seventh floor in the Treasures of the Library exhibition. The space houses works dating back to the 13th century, including rare copies of the Quran, first editions of literary staples, as well as Latin translations of manuscripts from the Islamic Golden Age.

Rare works include Description de L'Egypte; the original series of publications appeared first in 1809 and catalogued various aspects of ancient and modern Egypt. They were written by scholars and academics who accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte on his expedition to the country in 1798.

The library also has a first edition of Don Quixote; the two-part novel by Miguel De Cervantes published in 1605 and 1615. Often cited as the first modern novel, it is a foundation of western literature. There is also has a beautifully preserved 1817 copy of the epic ancient Indian poem The Ramayana by Valmiki, as well as a 17th century Quran written in black ink on gold paper.

The library also has the ninth issue of the first magazine printed in Dubai, Akhbar Dubai Magazine, which was published on March 3, 1979. The first issue of the magazine was printed in 1965.

Updated: April 12, 2024, 6:01 PM